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Howard:  World Must Act Decisively Against Saddam Hussein

Prime Minister John Howard has told the Australian Parliament that the international community must act decisively against Saddam Hussein. Mr. Howard was attempting to justify military action against Baghdad in the face of significant domestic opposition to a war.

Prime Minister John Howard delivered a blunt message about the Iraq crisis on Tuesday. He said Saddam Hussein's weapons program posed a serious threat to the stability and security of the world.

Mr. Howard told the lawmakers that the thought of war made him "recoil in horror". He said, however, that the time had come to deal with Baghdad's refusal to give up its weapons of mass destruction, which American, British and Australian intelligence agencies firmly believe Iraq has in its arsenal.

"The world has been far too trusting. Not careful enough in its dealings with the Iraqi president," he said. "But the situation is different now. Iraq has not changed, but we have."

The opposition Labor Party again voiced its opposition to the government's stance on Iraq. Labor leader Simon Crean told Parliament the prime minister was attempting to justify war rather than setting out a plan for peace.

Mr. Crean said the government hadn't explained why Australian troops had been deployed to the Gulf before the United Nations had authorized military action, and he accused Mr. Howard of rushing into war without a full and open debate.

"Yet he's already committed our troops to war without a mandate from the Australian people, without a mandate from the Parliament, and without a mandate from the United Nations," he said.

The debate in parliament was met by several anti-war rallies in Canberra, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The Anglican Bishop for Canberra, the Reverend George Browning, told a gathering of several hundred protesters that any conflict would endanger the lives of thousands of innocent people. Australian opinion polls have suggested widespread public opposition to any war with Iraq.

Despite this, Australia has been a strong supporter of Washington's Iraq policy. So far it is the only country other than Britain to commit troops and military hardware to the U.S-led build-up of forces in the Middle East.